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Best Home Console Game Soundtracks of the pre-CD Audio Era?

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I was playing some Streets of Rage 2 last night, and was reminded of how awesome its soundtrack is. I didn't have a Genesis/Megadrive growing up (SNES household), but at my friend's house we'd sometimes leave the intro looping just to listen to the music while we were doing something else.

Curious whether there were other awesome musical numbers from the era that I was missing out on, I did a little Googling, and I have to say I was pretty let down by the results. E.g., this is the top result:




I don't agree with a single entry on that list. I figured this community, full of the more learned retro gamer minds, might be able to do better. I'll start things off with some of my favorites:


  • Streets of Rage II (1992, Sega Genesis/Megadrive) - Kickass intro song and all-around solid music throughout the game. The Gamegear version also does a remarkable job conveying much the same music with its more limited hardware.
  • Tempest 2000 (1994, Atari Jaguar) - High energy music that pairs perfectly with the gameplay. If you've played this, your ears will prick up instantly upon hearing the first few notes of either the title screen music or the main theme.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog - (1991, Sega Genesis/Megadrive) - A lot of people tout the music of Mario World, and I don't want to knock Koji Kondo at all, nor the technical achievement of the layered music in Mario World, but having played a lot of both Mario World and Sonic during that era, I would have taken the Sonic music over the Mario music any day.
  • Super Mario Bros. - (1985, NES/Famicom) - Again, while people will often say Mario World has a superior soundtrack, it's the OG Mario soundtrack I'll sometimes put on just to listen to without playing the game, not the Mario World one.


What are your favorites of the era?

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I've not looked at the link above but these are some of the ones I remember the most...


Many Genesis games would fit in that category for me. Most of the stuff Matt Furniss did for instance are among my favorite OSTs for Genesis game.

But I also remember how awesome the experience was, the first time I watched the opening credits for the first Wing Commander and all of the rest of the music in the game that would change as the mission success/failure was determined.

I also really liked the OST from Secret of Mana on the SNES.

Doom/Doom II on PC when I got my SCB-55 add-on for my SB16.



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I liked console pre CD era, something about not just slapping a CD file on a game just made for awesome soundtracks.


Pitfall2 various systems, was awesome, I still love it, as repetitive as it may be.especially on 2600 which "can't do that"

M.U.L.E. various computers, one of the more awesome tunes specifically for a game ever. I'd often listen to the whole tune before continuing to the next month.

Castles of Dr creep c64 (maybe others?) I'd let the attract run just to listen to the various classical style tracks on it.

Lemmings, various consoles and computers, more classical music. I'd often just let the little blue blobs run around until they die just to listen to favorite tracks.

Doom, computers and later various consoles. Music was awesome.

Duke nukem, computer and various consoles, more awesome music.

Star fox snes, one of the few games I actually bought the soundtrack to when Nintendo made it available...on CD lol.

Tempest 2k jaguar and more recent various. Just love this pulse pounding music, and will often sit on the level intro listening to it, or a CD I got from songbird decades ago.

Conkers bad fur day, n64 xbox xbox360. Maybe not the bulk of the music, but the great mighty poo is worth it alone. Got the vinyl a few years back.


I listen to tons of game music, but those are some of my faves.

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Definitely agree on the Doom/Doom 2 soundtracks. I still listen to high-quality captures of those to this day.


One more that arrived in the CD-era but was all mod music, so still sort of counts, is Unreal Tournament. It's the last great demo-scene-inspired soundtrack IMHO. E.g.,



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It might be a better idea to pick a date vs a sales milestone as it kills your question and also your answers largely too.  The CD went commercial around 1983, but was moving 200M a year by 1990.  SUper Mario Bros barely qualifies, and the Sega games would be considered too late.  It might be best to say best console sound tracks before CD based consoles were released (excluding CD addons too.) :D


I would say though off the top of my head I could pick a lot of memorable bests.

- Super Mario Bros 1 (and 3)

- ActRaiser

- Final Fantasy IV

- Sonic 2

- Street Fighter II (SNES)

- Gradius III

- Zelda I & III

- Castlevania III (FC over NES but both)
- Mega Man II

- Super Metroid

- Super Castlevania IV
- Secret of Mana

- Streets of Rage 2

- Castle of Illusion

- FZero

- Star Fox

- Phantasy Star IV


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Enough of what I posted, in particular to both Yuzo Koshiro's ActRaiser, and Square/Squaresofts games on SNES they went an unique way about doing the sampled audio.  Instead of the normal approach to take a clean (or not) sample and just running it has some limits with what can run, storage, etc.  But they did something else, in a way, it's like streaming audio samples on the fly.  Koshiro explained it years ago and Square basically did this too.  The SNES has a hard limit of 64KB memory limitation which hampers the number of instruments possible and prevented reloading of a sample again.  To get around this, a sample loading program was created that cheated the system and streamed these samples using the on board ROM cartridge memory itself swapping samples on the fly as needed.  While still capped at X samples possible (audio channels) of the system, you weren't capped to a lower quality sample or a few set samples at a time as anything and everything could just be pulled into cart ROM and run.  That's why ActRaiser as early as it is beats out every game for a good stretch on the SNES in music, it sounds like in particular iwth 2 tracks, that he has a symphony running on a near CD level of quality from the game which was shocking then.  The 'Music' THeme from Kasanadora and also another called Birth of the People, check it out here.



That's what happens when you can get creative around limitations, a lost art of bloating consoles with massive storage space and giving few craps about improving stuff since limits are largely off outside of a suffering frame rate.

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There's some Megaten stuff from back then with great music. Explorer from Megaten II is a good listen. If you want something more obscure, Link Dragon for Mega Drive has some good tracks as well


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A few off the top of my head.


Genesis/MD - Adventures of Batman and Robin, Sub Terrania, Sonic 1/2/3, Comix Zone, Castlevania Bloodlines


SNES - Super Adventure Island, Super R-Type, Castlevania IV


Jaguar - Zool 2, T2K


TG-16/PCE - Soldier Blade, Twin Cobra


NES - Silver Surfer, Journey to Silius, Batman: The Video Game, Mega Man 2

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Some that come to mind:


Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

Batman (NES)

Journey To Silius (NES)

Castlevania II (NES)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)

Alien 3 (Genesis)

Sonic 2 (Genesis)

Streets of Rage (Genesis)

Streets of Rage 2 (Genesis)

Alien 3 (SNES)

F-Zero (SNES)

TMNT: Turtles In Time (SNES)

Space Megaforce (SNES)

Super Street Fighter II Turbo (Arcade)

Tempest 2000 (Jaguar)

Defender 2000 (Jaguar)

I-War (Jaguar)

Doom (PC)

Doom II (PC)

Jazz Jackrabbit (PC)

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